Curating surprise with improvised music

Vox Populi Gallery presents Victor Vieira-Branco’s World Again

3 minute read
Three performers on stage—two on saxophone, one on drums—white muslin wall behind them, audience in front

In 2023, Victor Vieira-Branco began presenting World Again, a monthly series for improvised music in the black box at Vox Populi Gallery. Vieira-Branco, a percussionist and composer who leads the local trio Bark Culture, came up studying music in Chicago, São Paulo, and Sorocaba, Brazil. He moved to Philadelphia in 2019 and joined Vox Populi’s membership last year to curate concerts and collaborate with artists in other mediums.

The music at World Again sounds a bit like jazz, a bit classical, but with more surprises. Many performers employ “extended techniques”—“getting sounds out of the instrument that are not what it was intended to do,” Vieira-Branco explains. When he began booking the series, he knew Vox Populi would have an audience ready for challenging art, but he says “deconstructing the mystery,” making free improvisation “more accessible” to new listeners, remains a major goal.

I spoke with Victor Vieira-Branco last week about his experience hosting World Again so far:

Broad Street Review: How did you first start playing improvised music?

Vieira-Branco: Coming from the punk scene, I thought jazz was for the “good” musicians. And I wanted to be a good musician, so I joined a jazz band. Then I got an Ornette Coleman CD from the library, and when I heard “Lonely Woman,” that had the same energy as punk to me—kind of dirty, kind of fast. When I was 16, I met this great vibraphonist in Chicago, Jason Adasiewicz, and started taking drum and vibraphone lessons with him. Studying with him at that age changed my life. He was involved with a lot of Chicago contemporary jazz, a lot of the music I still love today.

BSR: For people who are new to improvised music, what can we expect at World Again?

VVB: People can expect to be surprised—I think that's a goal. Thinking about sound in other ways, and having different sound experiences than a song-form kind of music. For me, it's very visual—you're seeing how people make decisions with sound. I would have three solo artists, and then at the end, they all play together; there's no rehearsal. It's really about being there. It can be abrasive and challenge the listener, which is also almost a goal. But a lot of people go in not knowing what to expect and are pleasantly surprised.

Part of presenting is to normalize it; you see people figuring it out. What's important is to deconstruct the mystery behind it, you know? Between sets, we play dance music out of a boombox, like Cyndi Lauper tapes. Often improvised music has a level of seriousness or eliteness to it, but I think it can be just a fun time.

BSR: You describe these performances as very visual. Why?

VVB: Seeing someone solo, playing their instrument in these different ways, is shocking. I had the percussionist Ben Bennett, who performed sitting on the floor using all limbs of his body in action; a lot of horn players control their breath in athletic ways. You see people interacting with these objects that you've seen before, but in new ways, and it's instigating. And when you improvise with someone you haven't met before, you're really in the moment, reacting and making decisions. A lot of people refer to it as “composing spontaneously”—composing is just that process slowed down.

BSR: How has practicing improvisation impacted you personally, outside your musical life?

VVB: It’s made me feel less afraid to bring my personality into other spaces, like a job—I work a full-time job in a law firm. And in a broader sense, it’s about finding alternate solutions; it’s problem-solving. It’s about knowing that a box is a box, but it can also be a stepping stool if you set it on the right side. You can fold the box; it can protect you from the rain. It can create other solutions in how you interact with people. And it humbles you.

At top: World Again at Vox Populi Gallery. (Photo courtesy of Victor Vieira-Branco.)

What, When, Where

World Again. Friday, April 12, 2024, at 7:30pm, at Vox Populi Gallery, 319 N 11th Street, 3rd Floor, Philadelphia. $15. (215) 238-1236 or


Vox Populi is located on the third floor of a historic warehouse building with five steps leading from the street level to the first-floor landing where the passenger elevator is located. The entry into and out of the elevator is 29 inches wide, so it may not accommodate all wheelchairs or motorized chairs. Any individual requiring a ramp to navigate this entryway is encouraged to get in touch with Vox Populi ahead of time to coordinate ramp access and discuss accessibility details. Ramps may not be suitable for all wheelchairs or motorized chairs, so Vox Populi strongly encourages anyone requiring a ramp get be in touch at [email protected] or (215) 238-1236.

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